Digital Cover: Canelo, King of The Ring
How Santos Saúl Álvarez Barragán went from selling ice cream from a truck to drinking Hennessy on ice.
Santos Saúl Álvarez Barragán was always a little different. During his childhood and adolescence, most of which he spent in Juanacatlán, Jalisco, he stood out from his classmates due to the reddish tint of his hair and the freckles that decorated his face—two genetic traits that are rare throughout Mexico and other Central American countries. This earned him the nickname Canelo, which means cinnamon in Spanish. But what made “Canelo” the name on every sports lover’s lips was his innate ability to fight—and win—in the boxing ring.
To downplay the 32-year-old’s accomplishments would be nearly as difficult as listing all of them. Canelo has been named the world’s best active boxer by several trade publications, including Boxing Writers Association of America, BoxRec, and more. He is the undisputed super-middleweight champion of the world. He’s won 16 international boxing championships and is largely considered the face of boxing, just as Tiger Woods is the face of golfing, or Lebron James and basketball.
To be clear, none of this was handed to him.
“I know everything about making ice cream, and I sold ice cream from a truck from the time I was seven years old,” Canelo says over Zoom. During the call, sports media powerhouses like ESPN pop up in the virtual waiting room, patiently standing by to get a piece of one of the world’s most prized athletes. “I feel very proud now,” Canelo says with an infectious smile, “because the trucks that we sold ice cream out of, I bought them. They’re mine now.”
While Canelo was born in Guadalajara in 1989, he moved to Juanacatlán with his parents, both of whom are farmers, and eight siblings. His family owned the ice cream business Canelo referred to over Zoom. While selling ice cream, one of his seven older brothers—Rigoberto—saw Canelo getting picked on for his appearance. As all of the boys in his family were boxers, Rigo gave his youngest brother the latter’s first pair of boxing gloves when he was just ten years old. Canelo’s affinity for boxing was immediately apparent.
“Right away,” he says when asked how quickly he realized he had a talent. “I realized I could box right away.”
In only five years, at the humble age of fifteen, Canelo went pro with boxing, even dropping out of secondary school. “Since that day, boxing has been the main thing on my mind,” he says. “I left everything and I just focused on my jobs, selling ice cream and boxing.” This ambition led him to fighting in 34 matches before he even hit 18 years of age. The bullies were no longer picking on him, to say the least.
While Canelo’s talent and somewhat rags-to-riches story are endlessly impressive, perhaps the biggest takeaway is a reminder that truly investing in what one loves, even to the point of making substantial sacrifices, is the most likely route to not just success, but happiness. Canelo is happiest in the ring, saying that’s still where he would spend his “ideal day.”
“I just love everything about boxing,” he gushes. “It’s a very hard sport, but when you love something, in a way it becomes easy. The diet, you know, things like that are hard, but at the end of the day, it’s what I love. Boxing is still my dream. It’s what I love.”